Life is so... weird, no? It has the capacity to show and teach you all about love and compassion, about patience. But just as awesome as it can be, it can be just downright cruel, taking the things that are closest to your heart and just messing with it. Like you could be looking forward to spending the Christmas vacation with your family and finding out the night of Christmas Eve that your two year old daughter has just been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of leukemia and that this will be the last Christmas you'll ever have with her. How about wondering why the love of your life since your teen years has that case of bronchitis that never seems to resolve completely and finding out that he's got the most aggressive form of sarcoma and will be lucky to live 3 months? Or the fact that your mother, who is your best friend, had just retired and you're both closer than ever before and getting the news that she's been diagnosed with brain cancer. Instead of spending time going on all the little trips and vacations you had both talked so much about going on, you now have to watch her slowly deteriorate, bearing witness to her ever increasing frustration at not being able to communicate even the simplest things and seeing the slow dimming of the brightness that used to light up her eyes. Or what about going to bed one night expecting to see pictures on Facebook of your cousin cradling her newborn baby in the morning only to get shaken awake late at night to be told that while the baby was born healthy and happy, your cousin has died?
|Image courtesy of Puddle City Lifeworks|
This was how it was in my life up until my post in April. I was starting to get into a groove, you know? Meditative yoga in the morning and evening helped me get rid of any supplements (melatonin and Valerian root) for sleeping. I was starting to pay more attention to what I was eating as opposed to just eating what was "there" and "easy". Not to say that things were peachy and smooth-sailing, but it was such a huge improvement. You just know when you're in a better state of mind when your mind isn't racing at the speed of light all the time and you have no problems recognizing that and doing some things to get it to slow down. Seriously, when you go from this:
It's pretty awesome-sauce.
So now that you have the backstory (did ya read it yet???), let me fill you in on the characters involved in this story. Introducing a family I'm very close to, where the husband is a person I consider to be pretty much family (I'll call him "John"). Over the years, I've gotten to know his wife (I'll call her "Jane") and we get along absolutely fabulously. In fact, I talk to her more than I talk to John! What can I tell you about her? She's amazing, thoughtful, sweet, and kind-hearted. She's also driven, as evidenced by her working AND going to school full-time (and paying her way through school too). She's also a bit impatient, bad with directions, and not the most organized, nor is she much of a cook. But really, the best part is being able to feel how much she cares about you and how much she loves you. Being able to spend time with them as I was going through my low and dark days was like getting some salve on my emotional wounds, knowing that I wouldn't ever be judged for thinking/saying/feeling a certain way. I needed them in a way I couldn't ever express and they, especially Jane, helped me without anything needing to be said or done.
|Image courtesy of Friendship Wallpapers|
|Father reunited with his son rescued from human traffickers. Not the same situation obviously, but the joy and relief at holding your kids in your arms is still the same (image courtesy of China.org)|
Let's be real here. My very first thought was that this just could not be true. How was this possible in someone who was capable of so much love? How was this possible in someone who was a hard-working gal who worked her way through college? How was this possible in someone who absolutely loved and cherished her family??
My next thought was: I need to grab my boys right this very moment and make a RUN for it! Fuck YOU, John, for putting my kids in danger by NOT telling me about your crazy ass wife!!!
After what seemed like an eternity of shock and trying to process this information, I was at a loss for what to do, what to say. There's no guidebook for the regular Joe Schmoe on how to deal with a paranoid schizophrenic and for me, I only knew that I was incredibly angry at Jane for having cheated on John, and I was incredibly angry at John for not having kicked her out of the house immediately as a means of protecting the kids and himself. But I was extremely sad for Jane for having to go through such a tumultuous time in her life, and even more sad for the fact that she had turned to substances as a coping mechanism. I was hurt by the fact that Jane didn't feel comfortable enough with me to confide in these things with me but, at the same time, would I have even known what to say, what to do? To say that I spent the rest of that weekend feeling like I was out of my league would be an understatement. I felt as if I was in a completely different universe. By the end of the weekend, though, I was determined that I was going to help in any possible way I could.
I started to help them with household chores. I'd wash all the dishes piled up high in the sink. I'd wash the clothes that were spilling over the hamper. I'd even throw the freshly washed clothes into the dryer and fold them and have their kids help me with putting the clothes away. I helped them with their gardening, planting some super easy-to-care-for flowers and plants to help provide some fresh greenery and color to help lift their spirits. I even bought Jane a bike so that we could go biking on some of the trails in the East Bay to get those endorphins going because, as Elle Woods so eloquently put it:
It's funny to look at that and laugh, but I spent every morning for the next month or so sending John a "good morning" text and hoping and praying that I was going to get a response because that meant that he and the kids were alive and well. I would then spend the time it took to get a response (sometimes it was immediate, others would take a few hours... come on, the guy DOES have a full-time job too!) sitting on the edge of my seat with me wondering if I needed to call the cops to do a welfare check on the occupants of the house.
I'm not going to go into all the nitty-gritty details so here's the result of the months since then: I realized that I was starting to really drive John up the wall when, after calling me one afternoon to tell me that it was best that our families did not get together that day because Jane had an episode. After frantically telling him that he needed to have Jane committed in the emergency psychiatric ER or just take the kids and leave the house, he pretty much told me to stop telling him what to do (which, in hindsight, I actually was doing). I ended up having a rather tough weekend where I had a nice long chat with my friend H.A., who I had turned to for advice from the very beginning upon finding out about Jane.
If you don't have a good friend who's a licensed psychologist, I highly recommend getting one. I really mean it. She was the person I turned to for advice on how to interact with Jane, how to be firm without feeding into her paranoia, to make her feel safe. Through it all, I always got thoughtful texts from her with her number one concern being my well-being. "My main concern is you. You've been going through a lot and you have two boys who are totally dependent on you to be there and be present," she'd say. While I knew that my boys needed me to be healthy and present, it was really hard because of the love that I also have for both John and his wife Jane, and how I ended up being the only person outside of her husband and her mother that Jane could really talk to. I didn't want to do anything to put that into jeopardy. My main goal, I told H.A., is to keep Jane talking to me. If she keeps talking to me, she'll be all right. And if she's all right then I'll be all right because I'll know that the children and John are safe.
It wasn't until that phone call with John where he told me off that I had to really think hard about what H.A. has been trying to make me do all these months. The three weeks where I was in between work (my former company got shut-down and I was waiting to start at my new job) spent with Jane in getting her to go outside, breathe some fresh air, and just overall hanging out, was not doing me any good at all. In fact, even the months prior where I was helping with the housework, none of that was doing me any good. I realize that that makes me sound like one hell of a selfish person, but I had to realize that John and Jane are their own persons. Jane realizes what is at stake and is taking steps to improve herself. She's been seeing a therapist on a regular basis. She attends AA meetings as often as she possibly can. She's even found a sponsor who's gone through everything Jane's ever gone through and much worse and is 13 years sober and has absolutely no issues with holding Jane accountable. John is his own person and an adult. If he doesn't feel that he or his children are in any danger, who am I to say any differently (unless it was really freaking obvious then all that you-do-and-be-you-thing is out the fucking window and I'm going to call the fucking cops)? I thought I was helping them with housework? No. I'm only enabling them and fostering resentment in the process ("what, she doesn't think I can do the dishes? Or do the laundry? Or clean the toilets?"). I learned that I have to let go of A LOT of things.
This doesn't mean that I've cut off contact completely. We still hang out, but it's not nearly as often as we used to. It sucks to make up excuses for why we're not coming over but I know that they'll eventually understand. I still talk with John who, after a little cooling off period, let me know that he was just frustrated and angry and didn't need me to make a bad situation worse but knows that I meant well, that I was trying to help. Jane asked me to attend an AA meeting with her the other day and I went. It was an eye-opening experience. While I was super happy that she asked me (and I was thrilled to support her with my attendance), I couldn't help but feel that I was so not a part of that community. Mainly because I never had to struggle with addiction (unless you count coffee, then I'm in deep shit), I don't understand what it's like to be stuck in that cycle. For me, I realize pretty quickly when something is starting to become an issue and then BAM! Issue resolved. I recognize the problem and I fix it. Maybe I need to attend more AA meetings? Not sure.
What sucks the most about this whole experience with Jane and John is that I had, and still have to, redefine my notion of loyalty. Having to take a back seat on their issues made me feel like I was being an awful friend. What true friend leaves their friends in their moment of need? When they need a true friend the most? As I struggle to come to terms with that, I realize that someone has to actually WANT your help because they actually recognize that they NEED the help. If they're not asking for it, don't go butting in and doing everything for them even though you think that you're actually helping.
Life lessons, right?